Novak Djokovic (File) Image Credit: AFP

The saga of Tennis number one Novak Djokovic is finally over. His Australian visa has been cancelled and he will be missing the Australian Open. He says he is “extremely disappointed” and the Australian government was faced with worldwide criticism for not allowing the unvaccinated player into the country.

But the government actually deserves credit for standing up to the basic rules of public health as the coronavirus new variant, Omicron, continues to wreak havoc across the globe.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke cancelled Djokovic’s visa on Friday, saying his presence in the country risked fanning anti-vaccine sentiment. Djokovic applied to a federal court to overturn the minister’s decision but the court dismissed the Serbian player’s request.

“The Full Federal Court of Australia unanimously decided to dismiss Mr Novak Djokovic’s application for judicial review which sought to challenge the Minister for Immigration’s decision to cancel his visa,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in a statement. “This cancellation decision was made on health, safety and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so. I welcome the decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe.”

Requirement for foreigners entering Australia

Djokovic has not been vaccinated against Covid-19, which is a requirement for foreigners entering Australia. He said he respected the court ruling but he was “extremely disappointed”. The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) says it will always “strongly recommend vaccination to all players” but noted that “Novak is one of our sport’s greatest champions and his absence from the Australian Open is a loss for the game.”

The unfortunate series of events that have taken place since the player arrived in Melbourne on January 6 and failed to provide a proof that he was entitled to vaccine exemption, unfolded as Australia witnesses its worst outbreak of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic more than two years ago. For the past weeks, the country has recorded daily infections of more than 100,000. On Thursday, a pandemic high of 150,000 new cases was recorded.

Therefore, it wasn’t surprising for the government to take such a hardline position by cancelling the visa of the larger-than-life tennis champion. And despite the appeals of many enthusiasts of the sport worldwide, the government stuck to its policy. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic went as far as claiming that his compatriot was “tortured, tormented and treated like a mass murderer” by the Australian authorities, which of course are not true.

As one of the sport’s greatest of all time, Djokovic was expected to be a role model, to promote health precautions, including the vaccination, that are aimed at curbing one our history’s worst pandemics that has already claimed the lives of more than 5.5 million people worldwide. As an influential personality, admired by millions around the world, he is expected to encourage his fans and others to be on the right side of this global crisis — not aiding the anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists.

Tennis fans would have really loved to see a player of Djokovic’s calibre to be part of the all-important Australian Open. But not at any cost. The Australian government was right to draw the line, and as the Prime Minister said, “Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic,” and people like Djokovic and other influential personalities must show respect to those sacrifices.